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Hillbilly Copper John
The most sought after pattern on GFF's search page is John Barr's more than excellent nymph pattern the Copper John. Martin Joergensen describes his version here: how to tie it and fish it. And adds its hillbilly kin the much simpler Copper Joe.
I first learned about the Copper John before a trip to visit GFF partner Steve Schweitzer in Colorado a couple of years ago. Steve recommended a bunch of patterns of which I knew all except for one - a pattern that Steve referred to as the Copper John.
When Kasper - the friend I was going with - and I looked around for pattern descriptions of this unknown fly, we had to seek a long time to find it. Steve came to our rescue with a copy of a magazine article. In his article Hopper Copper Dropper John Barr told the story about the fly, the pattern and the method for fishing it. The story has been even further expanded by Bob White as you can read in this comment below.
The pattern tied here is a bit different than the one shown in John Barr's article. Barr uses dubbing and not herl and he layers the copper in one layer only. The legs on his original also tend to extend far out on the sides of the body.
I love peacock herl, and even my first Hillbilly Copper Johns had herl thoraxes in stead of dubbing. I also find it logical and more straightforward to run the copper wire double - plus it adds further weight to the fly. My flies also tend to be more dense and less elongated than the originals - mostly because I tie them on a curved nymph hook rather than a straight shank wet fly hook that John Barr recommends.
And why is this pattern so darned efficient then? Simple! With all respect to John Barr's effort to make an excellent generic nymph imitation, it is not the imitative strength or general good looks of the fly that makes it a killer. It's its weight. Simple as that. Density.
The compact weight of the fly brings it down where the fish are. The lack of too many extensions eases its sinking. No doubt its ability to look like something edible, entices fish to open their mouths over it. But it's first of all because the fly is in the same depth as the fishes mouth.
Even in small sizes down to hook size 16, 18 and 20, the fly manages to penetrate the water well and sink.
I only have one really big issue with this fly: it's far too complex for my taste. Especially when tied in sizes smaller than 16 it becomes a true menace. With a dozen materials and alone two plus epoxy for the back, it is more than I usually bargain for in a fly pattern. I have tied the flies much simpler lately, omitting everything but the bead, he copper and the herl and gotten what I refer to as a Copper Joe - a simpler and more outback version of the original. A rural fly compared to the stylish metropolitan vogue of the original Copper John.
As far as I can see it fishes as well as the original, but takes a fraction of the time to tie. It becomes in effect a Brassie with a bead - also known as a Beahead Brassie in the US - the well known British stillwater pattern juiced up with a heavy brass bead.
The original Copper John
John Barr's own Copper John is discussed in detail by the originator himself in his article "Hopper, Copper, Dropper" (March 2009: the link unfortunately doesn't seem to work anymore. All searches for John Barr on Fly Fisherman gives an error or the main page).
This is his materials list for the original:
Hook: #TMC 5262 or equivalent
Thread: Black 6/0
Tail: Brown goose biots
Abdomen: Wapsi copper Ultra Wire
Thorax: Peacock herl
Wingcase: Thin Skin, pearl Flashabou, and epoxy
Legs: hungarian partridge or hen back or saddle
Weight: Lead wire
Both flies can be varied by choosing another color of copper wire. Wapsi has some really nice (and really expensive) copper wire that comes in a wealth of different hues. Chartreuse, red, yellow and black are natural choices, but other colors can be chosen according to wishes and taste.
The fly shown in the tying sequence here is a huge Hillbilly Copper John. Usually the pattern is tied on hooks size 16 and smaller, while the fly shown is made on a size 12 hook, which will produce a large and very heavy nymph.
How to fish it
I prefer the Hopper-copper-no-dropper method where I tie a big hopper pattern or a large caddis - CDC&Elk is my favorite - to the tippet and tie a piece of even thinner tippet to the hook bend of this fly (New Zealand style). In this terminal tippet I tie a Hillbilly Copper John/Joe. The length from the hopper and down depends on water depth and current speed, but three feet or one meter is a good starting point.
The rig is terrible to cast as the big, air resistant dry fly struggles for the power with the small, dense and heavy nymph. They seem to want to go each their way in every cast. But a slow casting rhythm and an open arc will help. And don't try to fish the flies too far from you.
Keep a close eye on the dry fly, which acts as your strike indicator. Fish will also occasionally go for the dry, so it serves a double purpose.
You might want to treat the dry fly with floatant in order to hold it high and carry the nymph for as long as possible. The rig is perfect for medium fast water of limited depth and can draw fish from almost any potential run.